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I’m now beginning to accept that it’s autumn, and when I sit down to think about what we’re going to have for dinner for the week, favorite braised dishes like pot roast, lamb tagine and boeuf bourguignon happily come to mind.  Not only are they delicious, but their rich, mellow flavors are favorites of both parents and children. They also keep well for days in the fridge (or longer in the freezer), so I can make them when I’ve got some time to cook and then reheat them whenever I need to get dinner on the table.

Coq au Vin is a classic French braised dish that I’ve always loved, but have never made well –until recently.  My versions weren’t entirely bad (chicken, bacon, mushrooms, red wine –what’s not to like?), but my sauce always seemed pretty lackluster.  (I had read that traditional recipes added chicken blood to deepen the flavor, but this was a bit of authenticity I decided I could live without.)  And then I found this recipe in David Lebovitz’s wonderful cookbook My Paris Kitchen.  He passes on the blood too, but adds some cocoa powder to finish the sauce.  This, I think, gives the dish the depth and complexity that my efforts always lacked and has helped made it a new family favorite.

Recipe

(Adapted from “Chicken in red wine sauce, Coq au Vin” in My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz, Serves 4)

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Ingredients

1 bottle of fruity red wine

1 onion, peeled and diced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

Sea salt or kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves

2 bay leaves

About 10 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 large chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts cut crosswise with wings attached) or about 3 1/2 pounds of your favorite chicken parts (thighs and legs work particularly well in braised dishes like this)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups (150g) diced thick-cut smoked bacon

8 ounces (230g) button mushrooms, halved (or quartered if they are very large)

1 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

24-48 pearl onions, depending on size, peeled (I use frozen)

3/4 cup (180ml) water

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Instructions

1.  In a large, wide bowl, mix the wine, onion, carrot, 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, cloves, bay leaves, and thyme.  Add the chicken pieces and press down to submerge.  Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days, ideally turning the chicken pieces once or twice during that time.

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2.  When you’re ready to cook, fish the chicken out of the marinade and blot it dry with paper towels.  (It will be an unappetizing purple, but don’t worry –it will cook to a beautiful mahogany color when the dish is finished.)  Strain the marinade through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl.  Reserve both the vegetables and herbs and the wine.

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3.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Cook the chicken in a single layer until dark brown, about 5 minutes on each side.  (You will probably need to do this in two batches.)  Transfer the browned chicken pieces to a plate as they are done.

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4.  In the same pot, fry the bacon along with the mushrooms until the bacon renders most of its fat and begins to crisp.  At this point, everyone in the house will run to the kitchen to see what’s cooking. (If there’s a lot of excess fat in the pot, you can use a paper towel held with tongs to mop up some of it.)  Add the drained vegetables and herbs from the marinade and cook until the vegetables are tender.  Stir the flour into the vegetables.

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5.  Add all of the chicken back to the pot along with the strained wine.  The liquid should come almost to the top of the chicken pieces.  If it doesn’t, add some water or more wine.  Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 hour.

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6.  While the chicken is cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan.  When the butter is melted, add the pearl onions, season with salt, and cook until browned, about 12 minutes.  Pour the water and vinegar into the saucepan and season with more salt. Cover the pan and simmer over medium-low heat for about 40 minutes, until the onions are tender.  Add them to the chicken along with any cooking liquid.

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7.  In a small bowl, make a slurry with the cocoa powder and about 1/3 cup (80ml) of the warm cooking liquid from the pot.  Stir it into the pot, letting it mix into the sauce. Cook for a few more minutes to heat everything through.

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The dish keeps well for days in the fridge (getting better with a little age), so it’s a great one to make in advance and serve at your convenience.  But good luck with that –the aroma of that simmering red wine sauce will make it difficult to delay dinner.  Serve now or later with mashed potatoes or buttered pasta.

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